Peanuts are not, in fact, a nut. They are a legume – in the same family as beans and peas. They are seeds, enclosed in pods, that grow underground.
Peanuts are a great source of protein and because the protein is plant based, they don’t contain cholesterol and are low in saturated fats. They are an antioxidant.
They are popular in cooking in many parts of the world, especially China, where they are used much in the same ways as nuts traditionaly are. It’s no wonder that nut loving parrots also love peanuts.
Unfortunately, peanuts have a dark side. About 2% of the US (human) population have an allergic reaction to peanuts ranging from mild (hives) to severe (anaphylactic shock). There are reports of parrots suffering from peanut allergies as well, although this and other allergies in general are a rare occurance in parrots.
A more relevant concern is something called an aflatoxin. Simply put, an aflatoxin is a naturally occuring carcengenic toxin produced by a species of mold. Its preferred habitat is soil and decaying grains and vegetation. That means it is often present where crops grow. It thrives in moist and warm conditions and often contaminates feed and storage bins.
Aflatoxins are most commonly a problem in seed and other feed for animals, nuts, wheat, and concerningly, corn which is a staple food in almost all cultures. Peanuts, which grow in soil and have very porous outer shells are perfect recepticles for the molds which produce aflatoxins. Unfortunately, parrots are great recepticles for peanuts and many cherish them as treats.
In the US, the FDA tests each truckload of peanuts for aflatoxins in order to keep the risks to a minimum. Each load must not exceed the recommended safe level. Animals have a more severe reaction to aflatoxins than do humans and your bird’s susceptibility depends largely on its age, diet and overall health.
Should you buy peanuts for yourself or your parrots, buy them roasted in the shell because the roasting processes reduces aflatoxins by 70%. Peanut butters also contain traces but falls within acceptible levels according to the FDA. It is one of the rare cases where I will recommend to you that you purchase the MORE processed version of the food. The more processed the peanut butter, the lower it tests for aflatoxins.
It is an individual’s choice as to whether or not you allow your birds to have peanuts. Many people fear the possibilities and many feel the risk is worth taking because their parrots so enjoy them. Your parrot, your rules. However, now you can make an educated choice.
Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.